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U.S. v. Pruess, No. 11-5127

Decided: December 31, 2012

The Fourth Circuit held that the felon-in-possession prohibition for felons in 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) does not violate the Constitution, even for non-violent felons such as Pruess.

Pruess has been convicted of numerous firearm related offenses.  In 1994, Pruess was charged with twelve firearms offenses, and eventually plead guilty to one charge for which he received twelve months imprisonment.  Soon after his release, Pruess returned to arms dealing despite his status as a convicted felon.  Pruess was then caught selling weapons, including stolen weapons, to undercover agents and a cooperating witness.  Pruess pled guilty to eighteen counts of firearm violations.  In 1999, shortly before sentencing, Pruess ordered a pistol online using an altered firearms license.  After his release from prison, Pruess sought to purchase ammunition, grenades, and flares from a confidential informant, knowing they were likely stolen.  Pruess entered a conditional guilty plea but reserved the right to appeal.

Pruess argued that the felon-in-possession statute as to non-violent felons violated the Second and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.  The Second Amendment “confers a right to keep and bear arms typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”  There are two steps to a Second Amendment challenge.  First, one must determine whether the challenged law imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee.  If not, there is no violation.  If so, the second step of the framework is to determine whether the law meets an appropriate form of “means-end scrutiny.”  In this case, Pruess does not meet the first step.  Pruess is not protected by the Second Amendment because his twenty prior convictions, repeated violations, and knowledge that the ammunition was likely stolen shows that Pruess is not a law-abiding responsible citizen.  Furthermore, Pruess was not acquiring the ammunition for “defense of hearth and home.”  Pruess’ second argument is that §922(g)(1), as applied, violates the Fifth Amendment Equal Protection guarantee in that it denies him an alleged fundamental right to bear arms.  As Pruess was a felon-in-possession, he had no right to bear arms and thus the court applies rational basis.  “There is a rational relation between the felon-in-possession prohibition as applied to a collector of dangerous, often stolen weapons and explosives who has repeatedly and fragrantly ignored the laws of the United States, like Pruess, and the legitimate government interest in public safety.”  Therefore, Pruess’ equal protection challenge also fails.

Full Opinion

-Jenna Hendricks